Kristina Kallas: Our ads drew attention to existing issue

Estonia 200 chairwoman Kristina Kallas at Tuesday morning's press conference. 8 January 2019.
Estonia 200 chairwoman Kristina Kallas at Tuesday morning's press conference. 8 January 2019. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Speaking at a press conference held on Tuesday morning, Estonia 200 chairwoman Kristina Kallas explained that her party's goal was to use the controversial ads put up at Tallinn's Hobujaama tram stop to draw attention to "segregation" in Estonian society, adding that it did not consider the ad campaign unethical.

Early on Monday morning, commuters in Central Tallinn were met with the sight of a series of bold, bilingual advertisements dividing each side of the central Hobujaama tram stop in half, with the ads on the left, in blue, stating "Here only Estonians" and the ads on the right, in red, stating "Here only Russians." The ads themselves did not indicate who was behind them, but by Tuesday morning they were replaced by election ads for Estonia 200, who were behind Monday's ads as well.

At the press conference, Ms Kallas asked why it was so difficult for people to see these ads, and what about the ads scared them so much.

"We promised you that we would talk honestly about things, and talk about the real issues that Estonian society is facing," she explained. "Yesterday we highlighted a very important and sore issue that has gone unresolved for 28 years. Division is a very serious problem facing Estonian society.

"Let he who says this isn't true cast the first stone," the chairwoman continued. "Our children go to separate schools and kindergartens, we work at separate places, live in separate city districts, watch separate TV channels; we have separate heroes, and we even ring in the new year at two different times. If that isn't division, then what is it?"

Estonian and Russian children should be playing, going to school and celebrating holidays together, she added.

Ms Kallas referred to Monday's ads as a mirror that highlighted this sore spot, finding it an issue that rocks the very foundations of Estonian society.

"I am sorry to those people of Estonia and the public who were hurt by the highlighting of Estonia's division issue, but Estonia's 200 goal is to ensure that none of us would have any reason or grounds for putting up ads like that in the future," she said. "We know that if we are that hurt over this one little ad, then we have a problem that weakens us, and that is a very serious security concern."

'Estonia already jeopardising itself'

Asked whether this was an unethical ad campaign that demonstrates a willingness to jeopardise Estonia's national security in the name of playing to the gallery, Ms Kallas asked in turn whether it is playing to the gallery when a group of people stand up and illustrate a sore spot in Estonian society. According to her, the party itself was surprised by the reaction the ads caused.

"If you're saying that our trump cards were played into Russia's hands, then that is already being done by the fact that this issue has remained unresolved for 28 years," Ms Kallas continued. "This has jeopardised Estonia's security for the past 28 years already."

According to the party chairwoman, Estonia faces a problem with "segregation," a large pay gap exists along ethnic lines, and the "segregation" is geographical in nature as well.

"If we are unwilling to talk about this issue in Estonia without worrying about what Russia thinks, then we will never start resolving this issue, because we don't dare talk about it," she continued, claiming that people refuse to continually discuss the issue.

The solution, according to Estonia 200, lies in Estonian and Russian children attending the same schools, and an Estonian-language education system that would support the development of the native language of Russians but also, for example, Ukrainians.

'We had no choice'

According to Ms Kallas, response from the party's own members has varied greatly, from some members being angry to others considering the ad campaign a positive one.

"Yesterday was a very long and painful day for all of us, but in order to start addressing the issue, we first have to experience this pain," she said.

The initial plan was to keep Monday's ads up for two days, but they were replaced sooner following public backlash.

Asked why Estonia 200 would hurt Russians, Ms Kallas asked in return whether the party hurt them, or rather had it shown Estonian society its own reflection in a curved mirror. "May people have gotten hurt? Yes, and I apologised, but we had no other choice."

According to the party chairwoman, Estonia 200 itself, not an advertising company, was responsible for the entire ad campaign, which was run at a cost of approximately €3,000.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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